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Centre Wellington rejects bid to be Fair Trade community

by David Meyer

ELORA - Council here firmly rejected being involved in political causes Nov. 14 when it defeated a bid by councillor Kelly Linton to designate the township a Fair Trade community.

Linton presented the notice Oct. 24 that the township commit itself to qualify for Fair Trade Town status through the following actions:

- agree to purchase Fair Trade coffee and tea for all meetings and in its offices; and

- show its continued commitment to Fair Trade Town status by ensuring a councillor or a staff be a contact with the Fair Trade Working Group of Centre Wellington.

Linton told council, meeting in the committee of the whole, supporting his resolution would support a grass roots movement, demand council take a serious role in the movement, it would have no budget impact, and it would take up minimal staff time.

He did not see such support as endorsing a political cause. He asked for a recorded vote.

Councillor Steve VanLeeuwen was pleased council took time to learn about the issue before deciding.

Councillor Fred Morris said it would be a popular thing to support the motion, but he was voting against it. “From the very beginning I’ve expressed reservations and opposition.”

He said in 1999 and again in 2007, councils decided they would not support political causes. The problem is such proclamations attract others, and courts have forced councils that support some causes to support what they don’t like.

Morris said despite Linton’s saying the issue is apolitical, he disagrees. He felt it would open the door to other requests. By refusing all requests, council has a firm policy. He said to think otherwise is “at best very naive and at worst political shenanigans.”

Morris noted a German University studied the Fair Trade movement and concluded it holds groups that are supposed to benefit from it in a cycle of poverty.

He added usually when council makes a decision, it has a staff report, but there has been none on this issue, and further, all he has seen is a brief report and a pamphlet from the proponents. “The information given to us is scant.”

He concluded having “an open door is a irresponsible stand.”

Councillor Kirk McElwain supports the Fair Trade movement by purchasing Fair Trade coffee, but, “I am not feeling very comfortable supporting any motion that gives an advantage [to some] because they sell Free Trade coffee.

Councillor Walt Visser said the township taxes all of its merchants, but only some would be able to provide coffee.

Councillor Mary Lloyd was in favour of the motion.

“As a community, we can stand up and make a difference,” she said, adding the issue of Fair Trade would make it “a trendsetter.”

John Markvart, of the Centre Wellington Fair Trade Working Group explained the Fair Trade movement began in England in 1999 when an Oxfam group won the endorsement of prominent politicians in a place called Garstrang.

After 11 years, there are over 1,000 Fair Trade Towns in 22 countries. In Canada, there are 15 of them, and there are 19 more campaigns in other Canadian communities, including Waterloo.

He said, “Visitors to our township and citizens within it would see that Centre Wellington welcomes the choice of Fair Trade products in our community and supports the goals of the Fair Trade movement.”

The idea behind the movement is people in poor countries are paid a fair price for their products. Markvart said coffee is the signature product of the movement because it is behind only oil as a traded commodity.

The committee conducted its recorded vote and the motion was defeated 5-2, with Linton and Lloyd in favour and VanLeeuwen, McElwain, Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj, Morris, and Visser opposed.


November 18, 2011


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